An Excerpt from Water into Wine

1. Bequeathed

“He bequeathed me what?”

The equine-faced lawyer peered at me over his black spectacles. We were in his office, a tiny velvet-filled and book-musty room with piles of paper everywhere. I was sure he was joking. His expression was serious: unsmiling, all business. I was sure that he was one of those men who think smiling is tedious.

“A vineyard,” he said levelly.

I had to lean back. The leather chair was solid and real. Everything else felt like a dream. A vague, confusing dream. My Ye Ye left me a vineyard. Not a sum of money, not books (he loved them), not even Ngai Ngai’s restaurant.

I was now the legal owner of a vineyard on Tertullian VI.

The children and I left on the shuttle for Tertullian VI the next week, our lives packed into plastic-sealed boxes and our lives uprooted again. I had recently divorced my husband. Mother came along with us. We also brought triches, our riding birds.

And there it was, the vineyard, sprawling over two rolling hills, lush jade green in color and blanketed under a thin layer of mist. Above us spun an unfamiliar sun and swirling white clouds. Our triches scratched the soil beneath their taloned feet.

“All yours,” Mother said, shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare. We had reached our new home two hours ago. Our bodies were still adjusting to the Earth-like gravity after time in the shuttle. I flexed my limbs to kick-start the blood circulation. The shuttle had cramped seats. Not surprisingly, the children bounded around the new courtyard and garden, relishing the freedom of youth and the miracle of young bodies. I checked for new dangerous animals and insects.

I let out a sigh. “The trellises are empty. I need someone to help me.” Indeed, the vineyard looked oddly bare, the vines leafless.

“Not in season or harvest,” Mother supplied helpfully with a bright smile. I knew she still missed Ye Ye a lot. She had lost her father. The funeral was a month ago.

“But why a vineyard, Ma?” I blurted out and my trich twitched, fluffing up its brown-white feathers.

Mother had always been beautiful in my eyes. Regal, elegant, the typical upper-class tai-tai. But now she had lines in her face, shadows under her eyes. She gazed at me long, hard.

“Remember what you said when you were five? You told us that you wanted a vineyard when you grew up. Quite determinedly, I would say.”

“I did?”

“Ye Ye remembered. He always remembered the things his grandchildren said. He loved you a lot, but you didn’t know that, did you? You said that you wanted a vineyard to grow grapes for him. It was during Mid-Autumn Festival. Remember?”

I had to close my eyes, against the hot tears and the feeling that I had indeed forgotten. I saw Ye Ye’s kind eyes in my mind, remembered the smell of his favorite tea.

That night, the skies were streaked with falling stars. It was also the night the war broke out.

This is an excerpt from Water into Wine, by Joyce Chng.

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